7 Ways to Use the Paintings and Drawings from Your Kids' Art Lessons
Do you remember how good it felt, as a child, to create something with your own two hands? How proud you were when mom or dad displayed it on the fridge? Given the recent surge in arts and crafts as hobbies for grown-ups—surely you know people who’ve taken up knitting, ceramics, or adult coloring books—these are feelings we all long for.
And we also adore passing those experiences on to our own children, whether by enrolling them in art lessons for kids or by encouraging their creativity at home with boxes full of art supplies. It’s fun to see the rudimentary family portraits or fantastical creatures your kids think up, but between school, extracurricular activities, and living-room doodling sessions, your refrigerator can’t possibly keep up with the output.
How do you praise these creations and preserve them as keepsakes without turning your home into an all-out kids’ art studio? Well, we’ve got a few ideas for how to spotlight their work without wallpapering your entire place with finger paintings.
1. Choose one spot to turn into a gallery wall
To avoid a total decor takeover, relegate the kindergarten art projects you’ve accumulated to a single area of wall space. The gallery wall, already a grown-up design trend, eschews traditional standards for hanging art throughout the home in favor of using your collection to create a single focal point. It’s a design element that relies heavily on curation and placement. Have your child select their favorites, or make your own choices based on a theme or color. Then, choose a place in your home for the gallery wall—we recommend visualizing it around a piece of furniture, a staircase, or a mantel—and map it out, keeping things like size, frame style, and white space in mind.
- Think about where you want to draw eyes. By definition, a gallery wall tends to be a room’s centerpiece. If you’re playing it safe, use one to display your child's work in their bedroom or playroom. If you’re going bold, try the entryway or dining room.
- Make it look professional. No securing the artwork with magnets or tacks like you would elsewhere—this requires some planning. First, frame the artwork, either using the same type for each or adding extra visual interest by using multiple frame styles. Then, figure out how you’d like to arrange the pieces by making scrap-paper facsimiles that you can tape to the wall to try out different placements. Ideally, they’ll be roughly at eye level and spaced a couple of inches apart. Once you find an arrangement to your liking, pencil in some guide markings and get to hammering. The hung pieces will eventually look as pretty as a picture.
- Keep it fresh. Swap out the artwork by season, by month, or whenever your child completes a new course of art lessons. You could re-mat and re-frame the pieces every time, but we recommend looking into print-hanging frames, which sandwich the artwork between wooden brackets. They can be fitted to pieces of many different sizes.
2. Help them fill a portfolio like a real artist
Art students transport their work to and from class in large, durable portfolios with handles and shoulder straps. Working artists, meanwhile, advertise themselves as candidates by submitting smaller portfolios that present their best work. If your child loves their art lessons or shows distinct creative tendencies at home, discuss art-related fields with them and work together to create an artist’s portfolio.
- Choose wisely. Your average accordion folder from an office-supply store will be too small or flimsy to store the unwieldy multimedia pieces that art lessons for kids are fond of inspiring. On the other hand, you don’t need to drop the big bucks for a professional artist’s portfolio. We recommend an expandable plastic case—at least larger than 8”x10” —that can be tucked away in a closet or drawer.
- Revisit it often. Grown-up artists constantly evaluate the work they include in their professional portfolios. Encourage your child to choose which pieces best represent their interests or skills; banish the rest to a digital archive or the recycling bin. If your child is still interested in art as they age, have them take a look at their old work—perhaps their younger self’s imagination will inspire new art ideas.
3. Create a digital archive
Of course, even a plastic portfolio can’t guarantee the protection of art against basement floods, mold, creepy crawlies, and destructive younger siblings. The Internet, however, is forever. Archive your child’s artwork in a digital format and teach them to be computer-literate at the same time.
- Decide on your purpose. If you’re in search of safe storage, scan the 2D pieces and save them to a folder on your computer. (Make sure to back them up to an external hard drive or the cloud!) If you want to share the artwork with friends and family, create an account on Tumblr, Instagram, Flickr, or Pinterest, whose platforms are especially suited to visual libraries.
- Assist your child in managing the archive. Once they can handle it on their own, suggest ways for them to organize the file or account. Initially, you can set it up chronologically; then they can assign themes (#BluePeriod) or milestones (“First attempts at surrealism”).
- Free up space. Once you’ve made digital copies, you can dispose of the originals—most of them, anyway. Reducing your collection makes it easier to keep the best or most sentimental works, and 3D pieces like those crafted in pottery classes.
4. Use those digital files to create polished pieces
Your child’s artwork doesn’t have to stay in its original form. There are a number of companies that use digital images to create customizable items for home decor, sharing among loved ones, and accessories for everyday wear. Put that digital archive to work making tangible reminders of your child’s creativity.
A few ideas:
- Custom prints: Instead of doing a gallery wall of many smaller pieces, blow up a particularly inspired artwork that you’d be proud to display in your home. You can get it printed on canvas, wood, metal, or even slate. Try out unconventional ideas like collages and triptychs.
- Photo books: Digitize your child’s artwork from a certain period—a full year of art lessons, for example, or their summer at sleepaway art camp—and then design a professional-looking photo book around it. That way, your family can proudly page through photo books that take up very little space on shelves. Photo books also make good gifts, especially if they revolve around a theme, such as animals for a pet lover or coastal landscapes for a relative you visited on vacation.
- Custom cards: Your year will inevitably include a reason or two to send out cards, such as a birthday party, thank yous, holiday greetings, or a birth announcement for a new sibling. Instead of using the same old photos, commission your precocious young artist for a work that will add a personal touch to the cards you mail out.
- Custom jewelry: If you’re enamored with a particular artwork, carry it with you always in the form of jewelry. For example, a jeweler could convert a child’s art ideas into charms for a bracelet or necklace. It’s a high-end option but one that would be especially appreciated by a parent or grandparent who receives the jewelry as a gift. Check out our design tips for personalized jewelry.
- Unconventional gifts: Not satisfied yet? Then see how your child’s artwork looks printed on anything from T-shirts and tote bags to blankets and phone cases.
5. Collaborate on your projects
Like we mentioned earlier, adults can get their own sense of satisfaction from crafting. To use your own projects as way to cut down on the amount of clutter in your home is killing two birds with one stone. And making art inspired by your child is sure to be a bonding experience.
A few ideas:
- Collages: This would be the easiest method for involving your child in your own creative process. Together, cut out their artworks and images from old magazines, books, and photo albums. Then, both of you could decide how to arrange the images before gluing them to poster board or—if you’re really crafty—decoupaging them onto a keepsake box, a nightstand, or another repurposed item.
- Adult art lessons: Use your child’s designs as jumping-off points in your own art classes. Reinterpret their watercolor in an oil-painting class, transfer their designs onto fabric during a screenprinting workshop, or turn their wacky drawings into something entirely different while learning Photoshop.
- Three-dimensional art: Turn your child’s 2D drawing into a 3D playmate. Specialty toy makers like Child’s Own and Budsies craft sophisticated plush toys straight out of children’s imaginations. If you’re handy with a needle and thread, you could do the same at home by enlarging their drawing and using it as a pattern for a simple felt toy.
6. Get a commemorative tattoo (or three!)
Although this option is clearly not for everybody, getting a tattoo of your child’s art is a great way to show them you’re their No. 1 fan. Pick your favorite piece and wear it proudly for the rest of your life. As a bonus, your child will love telling their friends about it, so you’ll automatically become the “cool parent”—at least to the kids. You might become the “crazy parent” to the other moms and dads, but that has its perks. Fewer carpool requests wouldn’t be such a bad thing, after all.
7. Let Grandma deal with it
If these suggestions sound like a lot of effort, just send the fruits of your child’s creativity off to Grandma (or whoever else might appreciate it). To make this into a learning experience, instruct your kids in the lost art of letter writing. Invest in poster tubes that’ll allow you to safely mail the art, and have your kids practice handwriting and composition before handing over some special stationery.
The amount of time spent on the message will teach them that effort and carefully considered words are more heartfelt than a dashed-off email or text. With any luck, it will trigger an ongoing correspondence with an older relative that they’ll come to treasure.